MISDEMEANORS & FELONIES
After being charged with a criminal offense, time is not on your side. You need to act fast to preserve your constitutional rights. Failure to act quickly could result in costly fines, illegally seized evidence being used against you, a drivers’ license suspension, and/or incarceration. Hiring a Reading, PA criminal defense attorney can ensure that you get represented fairly in court.
Dutko Law, LLC is committed to zealously defending every client, and to providing personalized service to obtain the best possible result in every case. Charles Dutko has represented clients in Assault and Domestic cases, Drug crimes, Firearms and Weapons charges, Theft and Fraud cases, Sex crimes, Arson and Property crimes.
How It Works
The first step in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system is Pre-Arraignment. Pennsylvania requires that criminal defendants be brought before a Magisterial District Judge within 72 hours of their arrest. The judge reads the charges against the defendant, informs the defendant of certain rights, and then sets bail. The amount of bail is determined by several factors, such as whether the defendant is a danger to the community, the defendant’s prior criminal history, the defendant’s ties to the community and whether the judge believes the defendant will appear at subsequent proceedings. Bail can be ROR (released on own recognizance), unsecured, nominal, or a dollar amount. Bail is not meant to punish a defendant, rather it is designed to ensure the defendant appears for all future court proceedings.
The next step is the Preliminary Hearing. At a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving a prima facie case. Prima facie simply means that a crime has been committed and the defendant most likely committed the crime. If the Commonwealth is able to meet their burden, the case will be bound over. Binding a case over means that the case will proceed to the Court of Common Pleas for disposition. Often, the preliminary hearing is the first opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor. In some circumstances, charges can be dismissed where an agreement has been reached with the Commonwealth. Otherwise, the defendant can waive his or her right to have the hearing. A waiver is often done in anticipation of a negotiated plea arrangement made between the Commonwealth and the defendant. If negotiations are unsuccessful or the defendant wants to fight the charges, a hearing is held. During the hearing, the Commonwealth must present sufficient evidence to meet the prima facie burden. The defendant need not raise a defense or call witnesses on his or her behalf. Typically, a defense attorney will take the opportunity to cross-examine the Commonwealth’s witnesses to establish a later defense or in an effort to show that the Commonwealth was unable to meet the prima facie burden.
If the defendant waived the preliminary hearing, or the Commonwealth successfully met their burden, a Formal Arraignment will occur. The formal arraignment is where the District Attorney presents the information or charging document, and the defendant enters a plea. This stage is mostly procedural and starts the clock for the defendant to file certain motions. If the defendant were to file an untimely motion, the court would likely dismiss the motion, and a defense or the defendant’s ability to seek valuable information about the Commonwealth’s case would be lost forever.
A Pre-trial Conference, or Call of the List, is the next stage after formal arraignment. If a plea agreement has been reached, the defendant can enter the plea and moves onto sentencing. Sentencing occurs after the defendant enters a plea or after the defendant is convicted at trial.
At Sentencing, Common Pleas Judges use guidelines, as established by the legislature, to determine a sentence. Pennsylvania divides, or grades, crimes based on their severity. MISDEMEANORS and FELONIES are graded as being of the first, second or third degree. To learn more about the maximum sentences click here. Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines provide for a standard range of sentence. The standard range is based on two factors; the Offense Gravity Score (OGS) and the defendant’s Prior Record Score (PRS). The Offense Gravity Score is an arbitrary number given based on the severity of the current offense. For instance, being charged with Burglary is more severe, and therefore is given a higher number than being charged with Harassment. Next, your prior record score is calculated. A prior record score is based on previous charges for which you have been convicted or plead guilty. Prior Record Score can be numerical (0 – 5, with five being the highest), REVOC (two or more prior convictions of 4 points or higher, and the current charge has an OGS of 9 or higher) or REFEL (prior convictions of F1 or F2 that total more than 6 or more in the PRS and does not fall within the REVOC category). The Offense Gravity Score and the Prior Record Score are put into a sentencing matrix, which provides the standard range of a sentence. Sentences can range from probation to months of incarceration. The standard range in the sentencing matrix is the minimum sentence which can be imposed. For instance, a person has a Prior Record Score of 2 and the Offense Gravity Score is 3, then the standard range is RS-9. That means the defendant could be sentenced to probation, 3 to 6 months in county jail, or 9 to 18 months in county jail.
Can I represent myself?
Yes. You can petition the court to represent yourself, pro se. The criminal justice system will expose you to legal terms, such as prima facie, arraignment, ARD, offense gravity score and beyond a reasonable doubt. Your inability to navigate through the criminal justice maze could lead to a greater punishment, including a lengthier prison term.
Often a pro se defendant does not know whether the police violated his or her rights when they searched a vehicle or his or her residence, whether the police improperly elicited a statement that they will use against you to show you are guilty, or whether the police were required to read you your Miranda rights.
Why Hire Dutko Law, LLC?
A criminal defense attorney should look out for your rights, and have the ability to protect his or her client from making critical errors during the initial stages of the criminal justice process. Having a criminal justice attorney in Reading, Allentown, Easton, and outlying Pennsylvania areas to consider the Commonwealth’s evidence enables the client to make an informed decision whether to plead guilty or to go to trial. A lawyer with good negotiation skills should be able to work with the Commonwealth and negotiate a deal that is in the best interest of their client. However, negotiation skills are not the only trait to look for in choosing a criminal defense attorney; you need to consider the manner and tone the attorney takes in dealing with you and the Commonwealth. A good trial lawyer has the ability to reach and convince people of their position. You need a lawyer with a combination of skills that enables you to enter a plea with confidence, and one qualified to represent you at trial should your case require it.
If you require a DUI, theft, drug, or criminal attorney in Reading, Allentown, Easton, or any of the surrounding Pennsylvania areas, give the office of Dutko Law LLC. a call today.